Monday, March 31, 2014

This Time He's Got it Wrong

PM launches Fiji First Party
Australia and NZ lift all travel sanctions

Puzzled voter 1

Puzzled voter 2
Dr Wadan Narsey's comments and dire predictions on the state of the Fiji nation are well know to those closely following events in Fiji. The economy is in tatters, people are persecuted and the media censored. And it's all the fault of the Bainimarama government. Things were so much better before.

Now there are more dire predictions, this time on the outcomes of the Electoral Decree.  There's going to be complete chaos on September 17.  Here's an extract from his article.  To read the whole article,  click here.

"The Decree expects that the voter will face one massive ballot paper, with 280 squares, with each square having a number, name of candidate and photo (the Decree says nothing about a party symbol to go with the candidate) ... In the polling booth, the voter will have to locate his/her preferred candidate, and circle, tick or cross the one square, out of these 280 squares.

"The voting nightmare. There are hundreds of thousands of voters throughout Fiji, who may have great difficulty in finding their preferred candidate on such a large ballot paper with 280 names and numbers."

But this time Wadan has got it all wrong and I really can't understand why he didn't check the true position before launching into this posting. 

These are the facts as I understand them:

1. A month out from the election, every candidate will be given a number drawn, lotto style, from a barrel.

2. For the last four weeks, they will campaign with that number.

3. On polling day, voters will go into the booth and be confronted with a big sign that has all the candidate's names, their photos and their numbers.

4.  The ballot paper will have only the numbers, all in grids on one page ( there's an illustration in the actual decree )

5. The voter will circle, cross or tick the number of their preferred candidate. And that is that.

Obviously, with upwards of 250 candidates, having all of their names and photos on a ballot paper was simply impractical.

How it will work is that in the last four weeks, the candidates will all be saying " I'm So-and-so , number 264 (or whatever). Vote for me". Voters are required to choose just one number/person.

Then the votes are allocated to the parties on a mathematical formula also employed by a range of countries who follow the same system. If you get 60% of the vote, you  are allocated 60% of the seats in Parliament. If someone scores highly across the nation, his party list benefits and indeed some of his candidates may not necessarily poll well at all individually.

In the case of independents, they have to score 5% of the vote (25,000 plus ) to get up but if they do, they are guaranteed a seat. Obviously, the system favours parties over independents but it's designed that way to prevent the Balkanisation of the Parliament and ensure workable governments.

I wonder whether Wadan, or Fiji Today that published his article, will publish a retraction. Errors and misinformation like this, widely circulating on linking blog sites, picked up by regime opponents in the international media, and passed on by word of mouth,  do nothing to help democratic outcomes.  Indeed, this may be the intention of some people.   -- ACW

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Political Round Up: Last Week of March

By Crosbie Walsh

The three  major items of political news this week must be the gazetting of the Elections decree late on Friday, the announcement that elections will be held on 17 September (to be a paid public holiday) and the appointment of  the Acting Permanent Secretary for Justice, Mohammad Saneem as the Supervisor of Elections.The Deputy Supervisor will be an Australian national. Most of the Opposition's criticism to Government's conduct of the election process have now been met.

One major construct is still missing: the launch of the PM's party which is expected next month.  The delay in the launch has been criticised by the opposition United Front for a Democratic Fiji which claims Bainimarama is in breach of the Elections Decree by campaigning before his party is registered.

NGOs excluded from election process
Government  previously said it welcomed foreign observers and participation from NGOs in the election process  but I'm informed the Elections decree states that organizations receiving foreign aid (and all significant NGOs are recipients; none could survive without it) cannot participate in election-related activities. If this is so, it is ironic (Government itself is receiving aid to run the elections), undemocratic (significant popular bodies are excluded from participation) and counter-productive (how many will doubt the fairness of a process where only Government can engage in voter education?).

Poll shows support for PM maintained
In the latest Razor poll for the week ending 15 March the gap between the PM and Opposition widened slightly.

Bainimarama is now the preferred PM for 80% of the pollsters; SODELPA candidates total 10%, and FLP 4%.

The preferred party figures continue to show a high proportion of undecided voters with 38% saying they were "unfamiliar" with the political parties, but 51 % supported the PM's party (up from 44%)  and the opposition continued to trail a long way behind: SODELPA on 5%. FLP 4%, PDP 2%, and NFP 0%.

The difference in the preferred PM and preferred party figures is  puzzling, although the gap is narrowing and should narrow more once voters know who is standing and all parties announce their policies. This is especially so for the the PM's party.

Media coverage also shows support for the PM continuing from the provinces (the North, Namosi, Rewa and Matuku in Lau). Favourable comments were made at the Namosi and Rewa Provincial Council meeting, and developments in the Northern Division and Lau have also drawn favourable comment.

In the Northern Division, developments include a new FNU campus and  new information office in Labasa as part of Government's ‘Look North’ policy; government's single largest project, the construction of the Nabouwalu-Dreketi highway; mining in Bua;  relocation of main water pumps that will improve the lives of hundreds of households in Macuata. and the  Mini Hydro Project in Somosomo, Taveuni.

In the Lau Group. the Tui Matuku has pledged support for the PM's party "because of what he had done for the rural and island people. Past governments have made many unfulfilled promises." He said those in the maritime islands were neglected in the past but the Bainimarama-led Government has really cared for them.  “We’re tired of the old politicians who will only take the country backwards when elected,”

RFMF warning
New Commander Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga, addressing troops in the West, has warned soldiers to remain neutral during the September elections. He said their role in the 2013 Constitution had changed and they needed to be neutral at all times. “You have a right to choose a party, but do not be part of the campaign because it will ruin our standard in front of the Fijian people, who we have vowed to serve,”

SODELPA attacked the Mining Decree and the supposed ban on school prayers; NFP  informed the Electoral  Commission that provisions in the Political Parties (Registration, Funding, Conduct and Disclosures) Decree 2013 that restrict trade unionists and disallow corporate organisations to donate funds is draconian and undemocratic; and FLP leader Chaudhry likened Bainimarama to the elephant in the house because he has not stepped down from his position of PM and Minister of Finance and is therefore still in charge of government money and manpower.

The UFDF is calling on the A-G and Prime Minister to stop the cover-up of their salary payments and come clean on the matter of the termination of the Public Accounts Committee members. "It is very strange indeed", they say, "that the Attorney General would want to close down the committee six  months before the elections." As previously reported, the A-G said the PAC would re-form after the election and full access would be given to all records.

Tuisawau on Taukei land ownership 
Rewa chief Filipe Tuisawau has questioned the A-G's comment that Taukei land ownership is not threatened because it is  enshrined in the Bill of Rights,  saying he is "not a native landowner, just another politician conducting just another political campaign."

Tuisawau asks, "What are the effects of placing native land protection under the Bill of Rights? What is the impact on the Native Lands Act, the Native Lands Trust Act and the NLC? What is the effect of the Land Bank Decree? Does it have adequate measures to safeguard and protect native landowner interests and later generations?" He claimed that by removing the "entrenched legislation of the 1997 Constitution, Government has effectively rendered we, the native landowners, powerless over our own land.This power, under the 2013 Constitution, now rests with the politicians in Parliament. All these changes were made without the consent of we, the native landowners, and as such are totally unacceptable.Worse, the changes were made by people we do not know or recognise. They were not made by the leaders we elected, nor were they made by our chiefs."

This argument is not new and is in line with similar reasoning by his chief and SODELPA leader Ro Teimumu Kepa.

What Tuisawau is not asking is what is being done to promote fuller use of Taukei land, much of which is grossly underused, and how can the living standards of rural Taukei be improved through the fuller use of their land resources.

In short, what is his recommended policy on land use and rural development? All that has emerged so far is Ro Teimumu's demand for a return to the old system of lease payments favouring chiefs.

The UFDF checklist
The UFDF plans to release a regular list of 'facts' for voters to ‘check’ and see for themselves just how uneven the playing field is for the 2014 General Elections. People will be  "urged to establish for themselves the TRUTH of the matter and decide if the election is in fact being run on an even playing field."

The first Fact check asked whether government and cabinet were elected, and a number of questions on public accounting, government spending, Cabinet salaries, declaration of assets. unrestricted access  to the media, and immunity protection. In other words, the same old questions that appear to have attracted little public interest.

In their appeal to voters, Opposition parties have to attack government but they should also say what they intend to do that government has not done, or will not do, that affects the ordinary live of citizens.  They have to appeal to and not limit themselves to appealing against. And they have to say something different from what they did when they were in government.

Manifestos needed, not vitriolic attacks
This point, the absence of any party manifestos, was taken up by Sachin Anand Balram  in the Fiji Today blog.

"I have searched high and low," he said, " for political party manifestos. Alas! I have not been able to find any.  No one really knows party platform of any of the five major parties. As the rhetoric heats up, as campaigning starts to simmer, as the politicians start to huff and puff, the party manifestos outlining the vision of the political party is missing. Manifestos should be one of the most important document that any party can possess."

"I receive lots of phone calls from friends and family members. All they know is that politicians are engaged in vitriolic personal attacks, politicians are not providing any specifics about any important issue and politicians are still seeking donations to run their campaigns. So, the voters are being left in dark about important issues that will affect their lives under a new regime (this is if Bainimarama’s Party does not win)."

His wish list of issues that should be covered in manifestos include agriculture (what assistance for local production and export?); the sugar industry;  land leases; tourism; small business; unemployment;  bank profits; crime and personal safety;  corruption; assistance to charitable and religious organizations; universal, women's and gay rights; bilingualism, multiculturalism and promotion of all cultures; sports; cyber security; a "rounded" education for children, not just academic achievements; health; housing; the disabled, elderly and poverty; devaluation of the dollar; VAT; income tax reform; the environment; rural development;  urban growth;  the military; media freedom; foreign relations;   infrastructure; flood insurance; national debt; national identity; public transport; prison reform; stopping the brain drain.control of "vices" (cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, kava, gambling etc.)

He concludes:
"Without a manifesto no political party should even think of fighting an election. The voters will have lots of doubts and distrust about their party if a simple manifesto isn’t placed in their hands. No party can do without it."
I agree wholeheartedly.

Narsey's advice to unionists 
Dr Wadan Narsey continued his attack on government in a lengthy  address, “Challenges and options for the FPSA in  2014: You shall overcome” when he was chief guest at last week's FPSA AGM.

He pointed to economic stagnation 2006-11 (2% plus since but only because of a large increase in public debts); frozen real wages; the string of of broken promises, a not independent judiciary, unfair laws, rules and regulations, efforts to weaken trade unions, a toothless Public Service Commission, lack of transparency, and development "bestowed on us by people armed with guns,"
"But", he said,  "this military government would not have lasted for eight years had it not been for the support of a large number of intelligent but scheming and selfish people: lawyers, former high court judges, businessmen and women, accountants and auditors, public relations experts, university administrators and academics, opportunists from abroad, and at some critical times, some of our own colleagues and friends from the union movement."  And this included Fr David Arms for criticising the 1991 elections and Fr Kevin Barr for believing government rhetoric.

The 30% drop in union membership, he attributes to "a weakening of the moral fiber of your members, as more and more potential members are willing to be free riders.

He urged unionists to focus on the bigger picture not individual issues and cooperate with other unions such as the FTU, FTA, FTUC, FNA. "Putting fingers in little holes in the dyke is not going to help when the whole dyke needs to be changed."  On which party to support, he said all parties were tainted by association with past coups or the Bainimarama government but the FPSA should engage with all of them, including the PM's party. If they found the inclusion surprising, he noted the frequency of the PM's visits around the country which showed he believed in the  power of democracy if not its spirit.

The 2000 Coup: part of the "bigger picture"
Try this Youtube video to see who was supporting the "Speight" Coup

Media responsibility and freedom
The Media Industry Development Agency, established to ensure accurate reporting, says it will keep a close watch on political  reporting in the lead up to the elections.

NZ journalist Michael Field, previously banned from Fiji because of his jaundiced and inaccurate reporting, called this a joke.

"It is a joke, this group, this MIDA group seems to be totally about control and dictation and order and you will stay out of this country, we're afraid of you, we've controlled the local media, the local media is totally compliant and foreign journalists can't be trusted."  

MIDA chairman Ashwin Raj  re-emphasised that three journalists - Sean Dorney (Australia), Barbara Dreaver and Michael Field (both New Zealand) - were still banned from Fiji, and that another ABC journalist, Campbell Cooney, could also be banned.

A major reason why I started this blog was to offset the bias, some would say, the outright lies, that Field was writing.

The Ratuva thesis
Yesterday, I published two extracts from Steve Ratuva's  recent book on affirmative action, and in doing so I said I thought he overstated the similarities between the Qarase and Bainimarama policies and insufficiently examined the reason for their differences.

I think Steve is correct in noting the Taukei focus of the Bainimarama government but wish to state an alternative explanation.  It could be far less, as Steve maintains,  a switch from an appeal to traditional Taukei loyalties to a socio-economic appeal: what the grassroots benefit from supporting Bainimarama.  And, perhaps, far more, a question of pragmatism.

Bainimarama could not have  survived politically and will not win the elections unless he has the support (or at least the neutrality) of the military, and the support of a large number of significantly located Taukei. Hence, perhaps, his failure to tinker with the racial composition of the military, and the frequency of his visits and development assistance to key locations in Naitasiri and Tailevu, the North, Lomaiviti and Lau. It may not be that these areas have received more actual assistance than other areas, but the PM and his ministers, particularly Dr Jiko Leveni, have been waving the flag especially hard in these areas. It is also true that inland Fiji and the maritime provinces were neglected by previous governments, and development assistance could be justified on these grounds alone.

My main point is that while we have to synthesise and generalise in offering explanations, the "real" explanation may not be as clear cut as we sometimes suppose. There could be a fundamental difference in the Qarase and Bainimarama policies. After all, his much maligned Attorney-General and adviser is not Taukei.

The Politics of Preferential Development

My weekly political roundup will be published later in the weekend.--Croz

In his book recently published by ANU, Auckland University and former USP academic, Dr Steven Ratuva, lays bare the aims, conflicts and shortcomings of Fiji's affirmative action programmes.  The two extracts published here are the conclusions of two chapters, the first on the period 1999 to 2006 and the second the period after the 2006 coup.

Whether or not one agrees with his thesis that a major policy construct of the Qarase and Bainimarama years is basically similar and similarly motivated— I think he pays too little attention to their differences—the book is a 'must' read.  Congratulations, Steve,  on a most thorough and closely reasoned analysis. -- ACW.
Steve's book may be downloaded by clicking here.
Appeasements, Scams and Tension: Affirmative Action Programs, 1999 to 2006

The seven years between 1999 and 2006 were among the most turbulent in Fiji’s history, with two coups and three elections. As this chapter has shown, there were different trends in affirmative action programs within this period and, beneath the veneer of indigenous advancement, affirmative action was utilized to serve various political interests such as appeasement, conflict resolution, mobilization for electoral support and the strengthening of political patronage.
The scams associated with affirmative action were indicative of how economic prudence became subservient to political expediency. There was no attempt to learn from the lessons of the post-1987 scandals, which cost the country more than FJ$200 million. Instead, political ambition and optimism overshadowed rational judgement in a negative way. Just as with the Alliance and SVT in the past, the desire of both the FLP and SDL to influence and transform the immediate political conditions in their favour through affirmative action became a primary consideration which outweighed the importance of indigenous advancement. The political rather than the transformational value of affirmative action became a priority consideration.
This was one of the reasons why affirmative action programs had very little creativity and innovation in relation to the self-empowerment and positive social transformation of the indigenous Fijian community.
As an example of this, there was a lot of emphasis on helping existing rural communal farming through provision of implements and dalo suckers, rather than reorganizing rural production using new knowhow and innovation to develop entrepreneurial skills, and to boost value-added productivity and large-scale marketing. Many of those who were supplied with dalo suckers and implements were community groups which produced agricultural produce for community projects. This was a form of communal capitalism which, as we saw in previous affirmative action projects, would have promoted community solidarity but undermined entrepreneurial innovation. No doubt a significant amount of dalo produced by the village farmers would have been “lost” through communal obligation and subsistence consumption. There was no proper monitoring system to determine the contribution of these rural plantations to transforming and advancing the economic status of individual indigenous Fijian families
Worse still, there was no vision for an ideal future society which rural indigenous Fijians must work towards. For instance, there was no plan for improving rural housing, education, health and infrastructure through dalo farming. It was assumed that an increase in dalo production would automatically have multiplier effects in other areas of the community. Furthermore, overproduction of dalo would have flooded the market and the impact of increased dalo production in real terms might have been negligible. There were no supporting innovative projects such as using dalo for large-scale industrial processing such as chips and other secondary food products to sustain large-scale dalo production in the long run.
The shift from urban-based projects after 1987 to rural-based projects after 2000 may have made political sense given the circumstances, but despite this, little changed in terms of the capacity of the state to carry out affirmative action programs effectively. This was a major shortcoming which had unfortunate consequences. The interests of the political masters rated higher than those of the group designated as recipients of affirmative action, the ordinary indigenous population. The distribution of affirmative action resources was skewed in favour of politically favoured provinces such as Naitasiri. Although affirmative action policies might have failed to achieve their objective of boosting economic advancement for indigenous Fijians and creating a more harmonious multicultural society, they nonetheless served more immediate political objectives in helping boost the SDL’s chances of winning the 2001 and 2006 elections.
The period between 1999 and 2006 was one of lost opportunity. Both Chaudhry and Qarase squandered a great opportunity to use their potential to work together to address the grievances of indigenous Fijians as well as address the broader issues of national prosperity and peace. Failure to do this unfortunately helped to create the environment for yet another coup.

1 Affirmative action for Indo-Fijians and other ethnic minorities was administered under the Ministry of Multi-ethnic Affairs (MMA). While scholarships for indigenous Fijians under the FAB were based on ethnicity and academic performance, scholarships under the MMA were based on ethnicity and parents’ income, set at $10,000 or less.

Post 2006 Affirmative Action: Development at Gunpoint

Despite public denial, Bainimarama’s pro-indigenous development initiatives are tantamount to affirmative action and tend to be very similar to the Qarase government’s approach. The only difference was that Qarase was more explicit about his pro-indigenous policies while Bainimarama is less so. While Bainimarama has been careful not to contradict his purported multicultural ideology, he is under immense pressure to put in place pro-indigenous policies as a way of mobilizing indigenous support and loyalty. However, his pro-indigenous development initiatives perhaps betrayed the ethno-nationalist side of him, which he has often concealed and even denied.

The major difference between Bainimarama’s and Qarase’s versions of pro-indigenous policy is that Qarase tries to appeal to the indigenous sense of culture and identity through use of the mainstream institutions such as the GCC, the Methodist Church and provincial councils. On the other hand Bainimarama tries to appeal to people’s sense of socio-economic need by directly engaging and influencing the indigenous people himself through personal appeal and rural projects while weakening indigenous institutions which he thinks are in the way.

With the 2014 election looming, Bainimarama and other potential indigenous Fijian leaders will be in competition to win indigenous Fijian seats, and one has to play the ethno-nationalist game strategically. This is despite the new proportional open-list electoral system, which is meant to nullify ethnic mobilization and promote trans-ethnic voting. Bainimarama has been doing his own indigenous mobilization through rural development initiatives, despite the well-rehearsed rhetoric of multiculturalism and opposition to ethno-nationalism.

Despite the crippling of the old order and the attempt to re-create a new one, very little has changed in terms of the development paradigm for indigenous Fijians. No innovation in land development and indigenous entrepreneurship has occurred. The same rural division of labour based on leasing indigenous land, which kept indigenous Fijians economically marginalized, persists, and it could even be deepened by the land bank project. Indigenous Fijians continue to be tools of political manipulation by their own elites to serve their economic or ethno-political interests.

As this book has demonstrated, all the coups since the first one in 1987 have made insignificant changes to the lives of indigenous Fijians generally, although some individuals were direct beneficiaries. Like Rabuka, Qarase and Chaudhry, Bainimarama has missed another important opportunity to raise indigenous development to another level of innovation. His major problem was not his lack of commitment to reform or enhancement of indigenous interests, but rather his contradictory approach: preaching against ethno-nationalism and affirmative action but practising them at the same time under different guises.

Affirmative action under Qarase, as we have seen, was subject to abuse. However, because of heavy censorship of the media, possible abuse under Bainimarama cannot be fully ascertained and things may surface later after the eagerly awaited 2014 election.

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Please Lord

Last year my New Year's resolution was... "Please Lord help me to keep my big mouth shut until until I know what I'm talking about."

I would like to share it with some politicians... "Please Lord help them to keep their big mouths shut until they know what they are talking about."

Advice to Children

With the current dengue threat showing no signs of abating, the Mulomulo primary and secondary schools have been all out cleaning the school compound and surrounding areas to reduce the breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Of course some students were using cane knives to clear shrub,  but under  the care of the watchful teachers.

I mentioned the use of the cane knives to a neighbour in Namulomulo.

He looked puzzled  when I said that adults usually advise children  not to play with or use sharp things.

He laughed out really loud and said, "Areh yar, these are cane farmers' children. Not city children. They were born with a cane knife in one hand and a kutari (hoe) in the other. These children are tough."

Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in Fiji. I thank Allen for permission to reprint some of them in this political blog. They remind us that life goes on, whatever the political situation. And it's good to know that.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

CCF Statement on Racial Discrimination


International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Citizens Constitutional Forum (CCF) calls on the people of Fiji to promote a culture of peace, tolerance and coexistence among ethnic groups as it marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21. Racial intolerance continues to divide our nation and has been one of the main causes of the social and political conflict that has disrupted Fiji. In this instrumental year of elections, let our nation be reconciled and move forward to a united Fiji.

We have taken some positive steps toward this in recent times. For the first time in Fiji’s history we have removed race-based voting. We have removed reservations to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination and are now fully accountable to our international obligations under this Convention. We have introduced a Bill of Rights which enshrines the right to equality and freedom from discrimination. We are able to celebrate a common and equal citizenry, a secular state and proportional representation. However, we do still have an important challenge ahead of us. In moving forward, it is essential that these rights are protected and promoted, without limitation. It is crucial that the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission be strengthened and have capacity to function independently and with integrity, as well as review concerns arising from existing or proposed laws and actions which may operate with prejudice.

The disestablishment of ethnic based institutions was a step in the right direction, but the greater feat will be to challenge forces of hate, ignorance and fear in the deeply seeded beliefs of many Fijian people. Each one of us has a role to play in breaking down racial prejudice. CCF calls on the political, religious and civil society leaders of Fiji to support reconciliation amongst communities and condemn racial discrimination and intolerance.

This year, the world commemorates this Day for the first time following the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela. This Day was established to pay tribute to the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, in which 69 people were killed and many injured as police opened fire on a peaceful protest against apartheid. The Sharpeville tragedy is a stark reminder of the dangers of racial prejudice and on this Day, we honour those that have been victims of racial hatred and take inspiration from President Mandela to overcome the injustice of racial intolerance.

It is the responsibility of political leaders to promote a diverse and unified nation, for religious leaders to strengthen messages of forgiveness and reconciliation, for civil society leaders to advocate for racial tolerance and awareness, and last but not least, for each Fijian to embrace and celebrate multiculturalism. Today, let us recognise the threat of racial discrimination in Fiji, defend the rich diversity in our society, and celebrate Fiji as a united nation.

Thank you, Vinaka and Dhanyabaad,In solidarity(signed) CEO Rev. Akuila YabakiOn behalf of Citizens Constitutional Forum

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Allen in the guava patch
Cyclone Warning

I visited a friend at Navakai in Nadi on the weekend.

After a few basins he said, "My tau, when the weather man warned us about the tropical cyclone, my daughter and I went and trimmed our tavioka. But the depression didn't hit us.

Then we were warned about cyclone Lusi and once again my daughter and I went and trimmed our tavioka bushes.  Lusi didn't come.

Now when we pull the tavioka to cook it takes four hours to cook."

The Best Political Party

The best political party is not one that has experienced politicians or good ideas. There are lots of experienced people who can be politicians, and we all can come up with the most brilliant ideas.

For me a good political party is one that has people who are always visible, and will smile at you when you meet or offer you a ride if he sees you walking along the road. Or stops to say hello and asks how you are doing. His car will not be heavily tinted and he will not have escorts and drive way above the speed limit.

And a good party is one that delivers the goods when the time comes.

And a good political party will give you a party to recognise your support.

Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in Fiji. I thank Allen for permission to reprint some of them in this political blog. They remind us that life goes on, whatever the political situation. And it's good to know that.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Political Round Up: Third Week in March

By Crosbie Walsh

No earth-shaking events occurred on Fiji's political scene this week.  Internationally, the Commonwealth agreed to let Fiji take part in Edinburgh Games, but not in Commonwealth councils (a FBCL poll showed 29% not wanting to rejoin the Commonwealth) and Ratu Epeli, visiting Palau, hoped the Micronesian islands would join the Fiji-sponsored Pacific Islands Development Forum.

Locally, winds and floods caused by Tropical Cyclone Lusi have subsided but the cases of dengue fever continue to increase.  Some 24,000 people are likely to be affected before the end of the wet season, the worst outbreak since 1995.  Sugar milling figures were disappointing with tonnages less than last year, despite efforts to improve the industry's infrastructure. Lapsed leases and fewer Indo-Fijian farmers continue to take a toll. An ANZ banker expected the country's growth rate to exceed 3% this year, a figure supported by some local authorities and disputed by others, notably Dr Wadan Narsey, and foreign reserves now stand at a record $1.8 billion.

Taukei numbers in business could have declined since 2006, if Fiji Indigenous Business Council membership figures are any indication. They have dropped from 136 to 35, partly, they claim, due to a lack of Government support.

There could have been a change in policy in the Fiji Sun that is now publishing fewer letters to the editor compared with the Fiji Times but it generally continues to publish a good mix of pro- and anti- articles which is more than can be usually said of the Times.

Wadan Narsey  published another bulletin during the week. Through essentially anti-Government, the bulletins do invite readers to raise important issues with those they may vote for.    Ratu Jone Madraiwiwi's article, "Beyond a Culture of Silence", published earlier today,  is another important read.

Bainimarama, promoted on his retirement from the RFMF to rear-admiral of the 300-man navy (sic!) is set to register his political party on 22 April and announce full details in May.  Electoral regulations details have still not been announced and while the work of the Electoral Commission continues there is still no appointment of the commissioner.  Opposition parties claim this disadvantages their campaigns while Bainimarama campaigns even before his party in registered.  Party registrations must stop 60 days before the Elections and campaigning two weeks beforehand.   Opposition parties are also chuffed because Bainimarama is obviously privy to  the regulation details, as evidenced by his statement in Lau this week that, contrary to earlier statements, voting may also take place one day before and one day after election day.

A recent surprise was the dissolution of the Public Accounts Committee preventing public knowledge of the use of public moneys, though the A-G, in making the announcement, said the committee would be re-formed after the new Parliament sits with full access to past incomes and expenditures. The committee, amongst other things, is charged with the responsibility of auditing the affairs of the six government commercial companies and statutory authorities, namely, Airports Fiji Ltd, Fiji Ships & Heavy Industries Ltd, Yaqara Pastoral Company Ltd, Fiji Ports Corporation Ltd, Ports Terminal Ltd and Fiji Electricity Authority. The ongoing lack of audit transparency leaves Government wide open to opposition charges,  some, all or none of which may  be accurate.

Transparency International Fiji and other NGOs met during the week with the Electoral Commission when they were told by Commission Chairman, Chen Bunn Young "the Electoral regulations will be released probably this week." Given the number of "probables" not realized, it may have been better to use the the more expandably elastic word "soon".

TIF Executive Director, Apisalome Tudreu, said his organization will be "focusing on developing understanding among people on good leadership and what a transparent and accountable government is." Work on civic education is essential but, if Ratu Jone Madraiwiwi's analysis (see "Beyond a Culture of Silence") is correct, there is no guarantee it will be effective among ordinary Taukei.

Also attending the meeting, Fiji Women’s Rights Movement Programme Director, Tara Chetty said they are looking to empower women to participate as voters and candidates. If a Fiji Live poll is any indication, she will have here work cut out. One half of those polled (mostly, I think, men) did not want more women in parliament. In another Fiji Live poll, readers were asked whether it should be compulsory to vote in the 2014 Election. Opinions were equally divided, but there is never any indication of the numbers answering in these polls. If Tweedle Dee said yes and Tweedle Dum said no, that would be an equally divided opinion. To be even remotely useful, the polls should show numbers and major characteristics of those answering such as age, sex (and if possible, race) .

The Electoral Commission wants to learn as much as possible what NGOs are doing and whether they will be extending their work to include voter education. The other NGOs represented were the Citizens Constitutional Forum, Pacific Centre for Peace-building, National Council of Women Fiji, Soqosoqo Vakamarama and FemLink Pacific. The Commission and the NGOs thought the meeting useful.

Meanwhile, Fiji's largest organisation representing more than 280,000 Hindus, the Sanatan Dharm Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji, is urging its members to participate in the general election. General secretary Vijendra Prakash said more than 190,000 of its members could be voting for the first time. The Sabha had been talking to its members and educating them on the democratic process, and helping them to make "a good decision", he said.

SODELPA will hold a meeting next weekend for its biggest constituency, the Central Division to appoint office bearers.  “We will elect these officials as we would like to nominate them in our General Assembly which is expected in May,” General Secretary Pio Tabaiwalu said. The party hopes to  announce its candidates next week.

If SODELPA becomes the next government, it promises to return to the system of race-based scholarships, claiming that Government's Tertiary Loan Scheme disadvantages Taukei. Bainimarama says more Fijian youth than ever before now have access to tertiary education under the new toppers scholarship and Government loan scheme, and reverting to the old system would rob many students "to pursue their dreams with a university education". He also said  the previous system "lacked transparency where people accessed scholarships depending many times on who you were or who you knew."

SODELPA's Dr Tupeni Baba, said SODELPA will not change its stand as the new system has not been approved by an elected parliament. Fine, that's obvious, and it obviously will sound good to some Taukei electors, but it evades the question of which system is fairer and whether Taukei youth are really at a disadvantage.

The Fiji Sun reports that FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry, granted permission to travel abroad even though this tax-evasion case is still pending, will address a forum hosted by the Australian-based Fiji Democracy and Freedom Movement (FDFM) in Sydney tonight when he will "update Fijians about the political situation."

In her opening remarks to the Rewa Provincial Council meeting today, SODELPA leader Ro Teimumu Kepa said,
“If the religious beliefs and links to the Vanua is right, it will bring about prosperity” 
which pretty much echoed her inaugural speech to SODELPA, and surely must leave thinking people to wonder about the quality and usefulness of her political leadership.

One reader writes, "What I see is a real danger that the uneducated electorate in Fiji will be manipulated by the old racist, undemocratic parties to vote for them ..."

And another, "If the SODELPA and its future coalition are going to loose the election.....they need to come up with a vote winning policy that has never been tested before by any political party. Only the Vote Winning policy and a totally new set of candidates can defeat the Bainimarama campaign strategies. Those political parties (should) not field any former parliamentarians in the coming election...."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Beyond a Culture of Silence

Voqere Bainimarama and Ratu Jone Madraiwiwi

By Ratu Jone Madraiwiwi

As ever, articulate, reasoned, forthright and important, Ratu Jone's article explains to non-Taukei why Taukei so often appear reluctant to express opinions, especially when they are controversial and possibly divisive. It also offers a mirror for Taukei to consider their behaviour and, how, by implication, it impacts on Fiji politics and prospects for democracy. -- ACW.

The apparent absence of debate, particularly among the Taukei, is attributed by commentators to ‘a culture of silence’. Open, vigorous public discourse is not yet a feature of Taukei or Fijian society at large. It has been explained in terms of a cultural milieu in which authority and communal structures coalesce to muffle expression. While media controls and self-censorship have not helped, it is the epistemology, ways of thinking, of the Taukei that invites closer scrutiny.

‘Silence’ does not necessarily mean consent. It is the lack of oral and written expression about issues passing for acquiescence. From the colonial era to the present, Taukei took refuge in silence until the political climate improved. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, blog sites etc.) represent a contemporary variation, allowing disaffected Taukei to express opinions anonymously. An assertive few, on opposing sides of the divide, eschew such inhibitions in that virtual world. Safe haven notwithstanding, it is outside the wider public domain. Sanctuary afforded by ‘silence’ comes at a price: uncontested interpretations of issues and events become historical truth and received wisdom.

Reluctance persists among Taukei to ventilate issues of interest openly whether the traditional system, sustaining Taukei culture, the Taukei language, qoliqoli, the protection of land or the status of indigenous people post-December 2006. It is compounded by several factors. Blood and kinship ties remain significant. Personalities matter more than issues. Opinions are an extension of the person and difficult to separate. And the ubiquity of connections renders security in numbers of larger societies meaningless.

Consequently, leaders take offence easily because there is no distance between them and their audience. The ‘personal’ element permeates and colours all relationships: traditional, political, economic, social and religious. Social interaction is complicated by the relative frequency with which people meet at weddings, funeral gatherings, other ‘oga’ (traditional/social obligations) and settings. The implications for free-flowing discourse are obvious: reluctance to disagree for fear of offending.

Communal thinking is interwoven with this ‘connectedness’. The group is preeminent and the individual secondary. The latter is a component of the whole. His/her utility lies in the credibility and weight lent to the consensus. It is sometimes self-evident, but more often a combination of interventions from key persons or groups and circumstances. There is little leeway for the self-validation essential for the flow of ideas. Seniority determines one’s right of audience and “who can and cannot speak”. Empowerment constitutes work in progress particularly for women and youth.

Advocating a public position necessitates taking a stand. It is not as simple as Nike’s ‘Just do it’ slogan. Consequences arise: it obliges others to react. This may be unsettling if they prefer not to be involved. Individuals or groups are identified with a position, limiting their room for manoeuvre with possible repercussions. In June 1977, as naïve law students, my good friend Graham Leung and I wrote to the Fiji Times criticising then Governor-General Ratu Sir George Cakobau’s decision not to invite Mr S. M. Koya to form government. The National Federation Party had won a plurality in the May election. My fleeting temerity was swiftly aborted by the opprobrium my politician mother endured.

Dissembling is a valued cultural trait: maintenance of relationships and social cohesion is the highest good. Consensus is valued and dissent discouraged. Where it arises or is anticipated, the preceding discussion and ensuing outcome are framed in general terms. It allows those present to project a ‘consensus’, interpreting proceedings to their benefit. Individuals usually reserve judgment during this process to gauge the tide of debate. Throughout this exercise, details are glossed over and face is saved. Either way, it does not allow for closely argued exchanges characteristic of intellectuals and academia.

There is also a sense that indigenous identity is a Taukei prerogative. While not a view I share, the assumption is only Taukei can appreciate the essence of indigeneity. Disinclination to participate in public fora is the result. Interestingly, the extent to which Taukei are committed to “a common and equal citizenry” of the present dispensation is intriguing. Ambivalence in acknowledging this country belongs to all Fijians continues. Fuelled by a perception that shared identity has been unmatched by reciprocal gestures, for example as in recognising the autochthonous and unique character of the Taukei language. A simple illustration: Taukei wince at references to the Taukei rather than Fijian language, bespeaking inferiority. Furthermore, use of the phrase “iTaukei” in English displays egregious unfamiliarity with the Taukei language itself (legislative fiat aside – The ‘i Taukei’ reference is mandated by Fijian Affairs (Amendment) Decree No 31 of 2010). ‘I’ partially serves as the article as in ‘Na i Taukei’ (the Taukei) or ‘Na i Vola Tabu’ (the Holy Bible). The phrase ‘the iTaukei’ in English (lit. ‘the the Taukei’) sounds repetitive, awkward and pretentious to Taukei ears, especially when uttered by non-Taukei.

These minor irritants nevertheless demonstrate how the ‘culture’ curtails more honest dialogue. Taukei keep these feelings to themselves, stoking victimhood. Shared, it serves to heighten awareness and sensitivity among Fijians although that process may be confronting. Those observations about use of ‘i Taukei’ exemplify the spectacle of unchallenged perspectives morphing into accepted orthodoxy. Wadan Narsey has expressed concern about this trait in analysing possible causes for the ‘hibernation’ (Narsey’s description) of ‘Fijian’ (i.e. Taukei) intellectuals.

The manner in which Taukei relate to authority bears on this discourse. The hierarchy of the traditional system, although modified, continues to apply between leaders and led today. Forthright, direct comment yields to endorsing the prevailing orthodoxy. It safeguards the position of followers in terms of anticipated largesse, guising their actual opinions. Taukei are accustomed to dealing with their rulers in this way as a means of self-preservation. The extensive protestations of support for the government, some of which is doubtless genuine, may be understood in that light.

At the same time, some perspective is useful. While the culture has tended to reinforce the status quo by limiting challenges to authority, individuals capable of strong leadership have been able to buck the system to attract a following. Navosavakadua, Apolosi R Nawai, Ratu Emosi of Daku, Sairusi Nabogibogi and Ravuama Vunivalu formerly, Butadroka, Ratu Osea Gavidi, Bavadra, Rabuka, George Speight and Bainimarama more recently have lain claims to prominence.

Their populist appeal and charisma, the promise of a better future and a pointed rebuke to the ‘establishment’ for supposed failings partly account for their success (though varied).

Levelling of both the Taukei community and wider society, particularly since independence, reflects an irreversible trend: those from more representative backgrounds dominating leadership. That dynamic will have a liberalising effect over time. A vision of the future surfaced during debate in 2006 over the Qoliqoli Bill which sought to extend property rights to Taukei fishing rights. It was protracted, vigorous even fierce but open and peaceful. Such scenarios are attainable but an enabling environment is a prerequisite.

The other relevant consideration is that informed and sustained debate requires familiarity with issues, intellectual inquiry and reflection. For Taukei, earning a living, raising a family, undertaking tertiary studies and involvement with ‘oga’ consume their time, energies and resources. It is one reason Taukei are often absent from activities such as service clubs. ‘Service’ as they conceive it is material and financial support provided to immediate and extended family; or bearing the educational and boarding expense of close kin in straitened situations. Taken with obligations to the vanua and the lotu, there is a cost: capacities for conceptualising and articulation thereof are appreciably diminished.

Additionally, the phenomenon of reading not being popular among the Taukei and wider population is worrisome. It is more than a means for acquiring credentials. Exposure to ideas, development of rational thought and nurturing of imagination engendered by this process is critical. Reading moulds the shape, quality and frequency of debate. It stimulates the ability to formulate, synthesise and articulate ideas clearly and logically.

Despite that lack, the situation is changing gradually. Regulation is being eased accompanied by empowerment initiatives for women, youth, people with disabilities, rural populations and other marginalised groups. Rising standards of education and exposure especially in the form of foreign work experience, the present dispensation, the pervasive presence of the media, in addition to accessibility to information technology have all had an impact. The resulting paradox: a more permissive social environment facilitating increasingly diverse opinion.

There remains a need to provide more open, honest debate within Taukei and wider Fijian society, so citizens are able to participate effectively in the issues of the day. It is critical for our development as a nation and as part of the global village. For this to happen, understanding this psyche of ‘silence’ makes possible remedial measures through socialisation, educational initiatives, empowerment, community and civil society support and other means. While ensuring the emerging landscape is focused and engaging rather than visceral; promoting balance with respect but not hostage to sectarian sensibilities. Journeying beyond a culture of silence to where meaningful dialogue and debate become commonplace.

Joni Madraiwiwi is a traditional leader, lawyer and a former Vice President of Fiji (2005-6).

This article appeared in the March 2014 printed edition of Repúblika on pages 26 and 27.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Commonwealth: Half in Half Out

Preparing to hoist Fiji flag at Commonwealth HQ
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) held its forty-third meeting at Marlborough House, London, on 14 March 2014.

The meeting was chaired by Hon. Bernard K. Membe, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Republic of Tanzania. It was also attended by Hon. Ioannis Kasoulides, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus; Hon. Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana; Hon. Salman Khurshid, Minister of External Affairs of India; Hon. Murray McCully, Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand (Vice Chair of CMAG); Hon. Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on National Security and Foreign Affairs; Hon. Dr. Samura Kamara, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Sierra Leone; Hon. Clay Forau Soalaoi, Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade of Solomon Islands; and Hon. Prof. G.L. Peiris, Minister of External Affairs of Sri Lanka.

CMAG welcomed the significant progress made in Fiji towards holding national elections by September 2014. These include the promulgation of a new constitution; the enrolment of more than 540,000 voters; the establishment of an independent Electoral Commission; and the commencement of a dialogue between the Commission and political stakeholders. The Group welcomed the decision by the Fiji Elections Office to open Voter Registration Offices around the country to ensure more voters will register in anticipation of the planned elections.

The Group urged that the Electoral Commission be provided with the necessary independent authority and resources to oversee the conduct of credible and inclusive elections, on a level playing field. It noted the logistical challenges still facing the Fiji Elections Office. It commended the financial and technical support provided to the Elections Office, including by some Commonwealth countries and welcomed the offer by the Commonwealth Secretariat to provide technical advice and support to the electoral preparations.

CMAG looked forward to the early appointment of a Supervisor of Elections and the issuance of an Elections Decree and the legal framework for elections. It stressed the importance of the fullest possible voter education.

CMAG stressed the importance of continuing improvements to human rights, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms, including of the media, expression, association and assembly. It also encouraged Fiji to invite international observation of the election.

The Group welcomed the relinquishment by the Interim Prime Minister of his role as Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, and noted the subsequent announcement of his intention to register his political party to contest the forthcoming elections. CMAG reaffirmed the Commonwealth’s unwavering solidarity with Fiji. In recognition of progress, CMAG decided that Fiji’s current full suspension from the Commonwealth should be changed to suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth, thus permitting Fiji once again to participate in a range of Commonwealth activities, including the Commonwealth Games, recognising the role of sport in bringing people together.

The Group further reaffirmed its commitment to Fiji’s full reinstatement as a member of the Commonwealth family, through the restoration of constitutional civilian democracy following credible elections later this year. CMAG requested the Secretary-General to remain engaged with Fiji, with a view to supporting the full restoration of adherence to the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values.

- See more at:

Monday, March 17, 2014

CCF Succession Announcement

 An anti-Bainimrama blog published an article claiming that the Rev Akuila Yabaki had been dismissed as CEO of the CCF and had been given two months to vacate the premises. They said this was due to his poor leadership and supposedly pro-Bainimarama stance (sic!).  A CCF contact thought the story had been spread by a former (anti-Bainimarama) CCF staff member who blamed Yabaki for the non-renewal of his contract.  Such is the situation in Fiji where rumour and speculation is rarely checked with the appropriate sources before dissemination .  Why? Because misinformation serves their purpose.  -- ACW

17th March 2014

Succession planning at the Citizen's Constitutional Forum

The Board of Directors of the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF) today announced that the organisation is entering a planned transition phase in its leadership.  There have been some misconceptions regarding this transition, which the Board is seeking to clarify. The announcement of CCF leadership succession planning is unrelated to any internal CCF human resource matters. 

“ We recognize the strong and visionary leadership of the CCF Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Reverend Akuila Yabaki, during his 15 years as leader of our organisation.  Akuila has been part of the CCF from the very beginning, steering a clear course for the organisation during the troubled times of 2000, and again during this lengthy political crisis following the 2006 coup, with his sustained commitment to human rights for all,” said CCF Board Chair, Tessa Mackenzie.

“The strong messages of support we have been receiving from our colleagues and partners in Fiji and abroad, also show what Akuila’s leadership has meant for the wider human rights community and what a critical role he and CCF have played in advocating for the rights of all Fijians.”

The Board, in partnership with Reverend Yabaki, have been engaging in leadership succession planning over the past two years, to ensure a smooth transition during this important elections year.  For Rev. Yabaki this transition will mean a chance to focus more on his interests and spend more time with his supportive family.

“This year, I will transition out of the CEO post, into a new role, providing part-time guidance to the organisation in areas where my experience and expertise will be particularly valuable,” said Rev. Yabaki.

“This planned semi-retirement will also mean more time for me to enjoy my family, including my grandchildren.  While CCF will continue to mean a lot to me, I’m looking forward to this new phase in my life.”

Friday, March 14, 2014

Political Round Up: Second Week in March

By Crosbie Walsh

The non-political news of the week was the threat of Tropical Cyclone Lusi, that is now only a heavy sea swell warning; the ongoing type 3 dengue epidemic, a new strain to Fiji, that has infected between 10,000 -15,000 people, leaving eleven dead, and the appeal by low-lying Nausori for funding to fight the epidemic. 

The opening of yet another telecentre which gives schools and local communities access to free internet, this time at Kalabo, may be considered both political and non-political. Kalabo, just outside Suva, has served as both a staging ground and retreat by anti-Bainimarama elements in recent years.

The big political news of the week was the appointment of Ro Teimumu Kepa as the leader of the SODELPA and her lengthy 34,000 word inaugural address. Rather too long, I would have thought, for a news item, but SODELPA protested nonetheless that the Fiji Sun treated it as an advertisement that needed to be paid for. The 68-year old was unanimously elected as the leader by the party management and her election was announced to a meeting of 300 last Thursday. FLP and NFP leaders were also present.

Most other news derived from her speech: a denial by the Ministry of Education that religion could no longer be practised in schools; a claim by the PM that she was scaremongering on land and religious issues hoping to win the iTaukei vote; a counter claim by Chaudhry that the PM was "shaken" by her speech and should be the last one to accuse anyone of being a racist. How he worked this out is anyone's guess. But the Fiji Sun took the unusual step of publishing the PM's rebuttal in the iTaukei language so there must have been some concern that less educated Fijians might heed the high chief's comments.

Which reminded me of a non-political and non-Fiji item copied by a Fiji Economic Forum blogger from the UK's Daily Mail under the heading "Lawn Again Christians" that could have some resonance in Fiji among the less educated. A South African preacher made his congregation eat grass to 'be closer to God' before stamping on them. If you don't believe it, click on the hyperlink to check out the photos that accompany the article.

Those with knowledge of Ro Teimumu's political record would not be surprised at her speech. She is on record as saying there was no need to consult "her" people. As chief, she knows what was best for them. She was Minister of Education in the Qarase SDL party, the party that SODELPA has all but replaced. And she has been a vocal opponent of almost every step taken by the Bainimarama government, including the People's Charter, even though her Bishop was co-chairman. She hosted the Methodist Church conference in Rewa despite government concern it would be used for political purposes. She used her appointment as chair of the Rewa Provincial Council to launch a attack on government even though the Council is a government body whose agenda is limited to Rewa and not national issues. She opposed the abolition of the Great Council of Chiefs, the restructuring of the iTaukei Land Trust Board, the payment of all lease money to the mataqali whose land was leased, thereby cutting out payments to chiefs, and the Land Banks that again bypassed chiefs and the iLTB, with legal agreements protecting leasor and leasee.

But even those with no knowledge of her political record would have been surprised at a speech that was so blatantly and unashamedly a call for a return to the "old regime" where chiefly and iTaukei "rights" were deemed paramount. 

The speech addressed no issues that would appeal to all Fijians, irrespective of race, and offered no new perspectives or promises of policies addressing all Fijians. It was addressed to iTaukei, not to a supposedly multi-racial party. And its main thrust was an attack on the Bainimarama government, hoping that ethnic Fijians would forget what has been done for —and with— them over the past eight years, and that they could be appealed to again vote back into power the elite that had most benefited by an appeal to what, in a political context, are the red herrings of race and religion.

A breakdown of Ro Teimumu's address

God, religion and schooling
An earlier SDL submission to the Ghai commission wanted Fiji to be declared a Christian state. The 2013 Constitution recognized the right of all Fijians to worship according to their beliefs but it did not dedicate Fiji to God, Christian or otherwise. Ro Teimumu criticised this omission:
"We are called now to save our country. We must rededicate Fiji to God, and, with His support, take its destiny into our hands. We should look at this as our sacred duty. I did not at first actively seek the positions of leader and president of the Social Democratic Liberal Party ... But I heard deep in my heart the cry of our islands. I listened; I prayed long and hard and the answers came. And, now, here I am. I am ready..."

"On this day I declare to you before the nation that SODELPA will always recognize the supreme presence and power of Almighty God.... Bainimarama and Sayed-Khaiyum ... see no place for God in their 2013 Constitution. They made this decision without the permission of the people and then declared that it had our approval. How dare they? "
She went on to say that "a senior official in the Ministry of Education has given written advice following questions raised by Suva Grammar School, a government school. This official, from the ethics and disciplinary unit, states that Christian prayers at Suva Grammar are unconstitutional."

The blog Fiji Today took up the call with a heading "It is now illegal to pray at school". But it transpires that Ro Teimumu had got it all wrong. Education Minister Filipe Bole said no such directive has been issued, and the Suva Grammar School management had only sent letters to parents asking if they wanted to allow or disallow their children attending prayers. 

Since then, Sanatan and Methodist schools have publicly stated they have no problem with the constitution or with parents giving or withholding permission for their children to attend prayers and other religious instruction.  But Ro Teimumu has not retracted her accusations.

The old new policy
In most other respects Ro Teimumu's policies were similar to the policies of the SDL-led government prior to their ousting in 2006.

After saying that "SODELPA commits itself to building a prosperous and unified nation, based on democratic values, the rule of law, fundamental human rights and social justice and to ensure equal opportunities for all." she outlined policies that to this writer appeared to contradict democratic values and could not possibly unify the nation, namely,

  • The reinstatement of the Great Council of Chiefs
  • The reintroduction of scholarships based on race
  • The revocation of the Land Use Decree and Mahogany decrees that opened land for use with guarantees for all concerned parties
  • The removal of impositions on the Methodist Church (that the Church has earlier accepted as it moved to become a non-political organisation)
  • All itaukei land to be managed only by the Itaukei Land Trust Board and "the equal distribution of lease money to landowning units will also be reviewed as she claims the current system is effectively destroying the communal foundation of the indigenous Fijian society."
  • Asking the Supreme Court about the status of the 1997 constitution (with the clear intention of its re-introduction).
  • Reviewing the legality of the Fiji National Provident Fund's unilateral reductions of pension entitlements to ensure that pension contractual agreements are honoured. (The Fund would be unsustainable if the old pension levels were reintroduced.)
One new development in SODELPA organization that could prove very effective in getting people to vote, and vote for the SODELPA, is the formation of women and youth branches, the latter headed by Pita Waqanovonovo, once a leader of an aborted protest march on Suva, now a likely candidate for a seat in parliament.

A multi-part government
Ro Teimumu said if SODELPA won, it would resume a multi-party government with the Fiji Labour Party and would invite like-minded parties to join.

Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry said after the meeting that they have been working together under the United Front for a Democratic Fiji (UFDF). National Federation Party president, Raman Pratap Singh, said: “Under our umbrella (UFDF) we have been here for the last two years and that is an understanding between the parties as the leader of SODELPA has said that we will be fighting the elections on our own. We have an understanding and we are working with that understanding.”

Chaudhry's involvement is not surprising. Once the SDL's bitter enemy, he now sees his best chance, with his Indo-Fijian support base falling mainly due to emigration,  to exercise some measure of power is in coalition with his former enemies. His previous "coalitions" hint at a very short coalition this time round.  As for the NFP, already overshadowed by Chaudhry and not really needed by SODELPA, I think they have sounded the dead knell on Fiji's oldest political party.

Meanwhile, the PM is still to announce details on his new party.

Ro Teimumu's full speech and PM Bainimarama's response are published separately.

Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On


Its amazing how technology has evolved. From the humble land line to cordless phones to mobile phones that are almost as intelligent as humans. One of the better things is that costs of calls has come down so much. When you think about it, was the lone telephone company making a lot of money back then, if it was where has it all gone, now they are laying people off, but have spent a pretty penny in  sponsorship. But that's another story.

Mine is about communication. I live on the foothills of the Nausori Highlands and surrounded by cane fields and forests. With my humble mobile phone I can contact the world. Now that we have smart phones equipped with many gadgets and internet facilities the world has become smaller and I can get on Facebook at anytime, as long as I have funds, send and receive email what else do we need.

We can access information about what's happening in the world and learn things.

Just 4 am this morning I was "chatting" with a friend who is on the other side of the world.

It certainly has given me the power of communication. And now I have  phone where I don't have to type my message, I just set it up and dictate and it inserts email addresses and my message. I am looking forward to the phone that will read my thoughts! A bit far fetched? Who knows, it may already have been invented. Whew, me and my imagination.

And now with Vodafones 3G network,it's even better.

Heavenly Plea

Oh Lord, please make the gang at FEA know how to fix lightning strikes.

And please Lord, don't aim the lightning at the power lines. I was gonna ask you to aim it at some people but when I was speaking with you last night, you said that's not how you work. But you know what Lord, please if you are gonna aim the lightning at us have a heart, my beer gets warm,.

And Lord, Im gonna tell the gang at FEA to pay their  gang a little better so they can remain in Fiji.
Sobo. Lord, too many brains going into the drain. Just like me, soon everybody will be talking and no one will be doing.

Hey Lord, I know you can, Cuz.

Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in Fiji. I thank Allen for permission to reprint some of them in this political blog. They remind us that life goes on, whatever the political situation. And it's good to know that.

Ro Teimumu Kepa Spells Out Her Vision

Her Inaugural Speech at the SODELPA Meeting

"I send my greetings to the people of Fiji and to the many supporters of SODELPA here and throughout the country. The people of Rewa Province send the delegates their best wishes and want you to know that they are with us. Let me express on behalf of SODELPA, a message of goodwill to our colleagues from the Fiji Labour Party and the National Federation Party. We have often been on opposite sides. But I am pleased to tell you that the crisis in our country has brought us together through the political movement, the United Front for a Democratic Fiji. The United Front is based on a shared determination to defeat the forces of those who stole the last elected government. The values and principles that bind the United Front are those of democracy, truth, rights, the rule of law and accountability to the people.
"We will go to the elections as individual parties with our own manifestos, but co-operating where possible, especially in getting a high turnout of voters. My friends, there comes a moment in the life of a nation when its people are called to make great decisions to protect and save their homeland. +++That moment has arrived for Fiji. We are called now to save our country. We must rededicate Fiji to God, and, with His support, take its destiny into our hands. We should look at this as our sacred duty. I did not at first actively seek the positions of leader and president of the Social Democratic Liberal Party as I was very much involved with my traditional obligations to my province and people. But I heard deep in my heart the cry of our islands. I listened; I prayed long and hard and the answers came. And, now, here I am. I am ready. I am so very honoured to be elected unanimously to lead SODELPA and sincerely thank other candidates who withdrew in my favour.

I announce today that I have offered myself for selection as a general election candidate. I give myself to this party and I give myself to the people. My courage will not falter as we move along the hazardous path back to freedom, legitimate constitutional rule and representative democracy. I will be there for you, to speak out for a Fiji free of fear and oppression; a Fiji of respect and compassion, social justice, the rule of law and economic progress that creates the jobs we desperately need. Those who took over the state and its government by force of arms are still seen as a threat. They will be reluctant to give up their power. We must show them that we have power as well. It is the sovereign power of the people; this is the highest authority and it will prevail. All of us, walking side by side, will put right the wrongs of the last seven years. We must go forward to a glorious future of limitless potential, abundant opportunity and enduring prosperity.

United in this mighty mission, we can finally become all we can be and take our place again with pride among the democratic family of nations. On Wednesday we witnessed the resignation from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces of Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama. We welcome that. We look forward to taking him on in a free and fair election and subjecting him to a resounding defeat. His successor, Brigadier-General MoseseTikoitoga, has pledged that the military will be independent, above politics, and respect the will of the people. We will hold him to that. I invite Brigadier-General TIkoitoga to immediately make a solemn declaration that under his command there will be no more beatings, no more threats and no more unwelcome trips to the barracks. He needs to do this in light of continuing public fears and concerns. We should remind ourselves that despite the change at the RFMF, Fiji is still a dictatorship. Decisions are made by the few, there is no consultation with political parties, information is withheld, and oppressive, anti-democratic laws remain in place. Military officers occupy many crucial positions in government. We urge Commodore Bainimarama in his role as interim prime minister to do the right thing by the country and the people. He should move now to address these problems and create the right environment for the elections.

On this day I declare to you before the nation that SODELPA will always recognize the supreme presence and power of Almighty God. He is the source of divine blessing not only for us as individuals and members of communities, but also for Fiji as a nation. The elected leaders in Parliament who promulgated the constitutions of 1970 and 1997 all recognized this fundamental and eternal truth. And they made sure this was acknowledged in the preamble to these constitutions. Contrast this wisdom of our nation’s former leaders, all democratically elected by the people, to the arrogance of Commodore Bainimarama and his unelected oligarchy. They see no place for God in their 2013 Constitution. They made this decision without the permission of the people and then declared that it had our approval. How dare they? By what right did they say we had agreed? The Bainimarama-Sayed-Khaiyum constitution tells us that we have religious liberty and that we can practice our faiths privately and publicly. But, ladies and gentlemen, we are seeing serious contradictions in this hastily assembled document. A senior official in the Ministry of Education has given written advice following questions raised by Suva Grammar School, a government school. This official, from the ethics and disciplinary unit, states that Christian prayers at Suva Grammar are unconstitutional. If this advice is accepted, prayers would not be allowed. Neither would any form of religious teaching. That would also mean no prayers or religious instructions at other government schools like RKS, QVS, ACS and Natabua. But the advice from the senior official goes further and declares that all schools must adhere to this constitutional provision. Where is the liberty here? This constitution is casting a shadow over the soul of Fiji. I ask Commodore Bainimarama to tell us why the Fiji Military Forces are not subject to the same religious restrictions? Why is the Police Force also exempt? Why are both these institutions allowed to pray together when that liberty is denied to others? This is gross discrimination on such a profoundly sensitive matter. Let me, therefore, give this undertaking. if you give SODELPA victory in the general elections, our very first action will be to take steps to restore God to His rightful place in our country’s supreme law. The oligarchy in power was afraid to allow the people of Fiji the freedom, through a referendum, to have the final say on the general acceptability of their Bainimarama and Saiyed-Khaiyum draft constitution.

So today we have a constitution that lacks democratic legitimacy. It is a unilateral promulgation that is further compromised in terms of morality and justice in its provisions deliberately intended to protect the self-interest of the ruling elite. We will ask the Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on the status in law of the 1997 Constitution. Through the collective power of the people’s vote we expect a clear demonstration that citizens of Fiji overwhelmingly agree with the judgment by Fiji’s Court of Appeal in April 2009. This declared that Commodore Bainimarama’s acts in forcibly removing the elected SDL-led multi-party Government in December 2006 and unilateral assumption of power as Prime Minister were unconstitutional and unlawful. And here, let us recall the incisive and memorable comments by Justice Gates in the High Court when giving his judgment in the Chandrika Prasad case in November 2000 and in the Jokapeci Koroi case in August 2001. Justice Gates said that the 1997 Constitution was immutable and indestructible and can only be changed or revoked by the same procedural way through which it was promulgated---and that is by the elected representatives of the people in Parliament. With your unwavering support and those of our political partners, a SODELPA-led Government will restore very important expressions of historical facts contained in the democratically promulgated 1970 and 1997 constitutions. These were deliberately excluded by Commodore Bainimarama and his Attorney-General from their 2013 Constitution.

They referred to those momentous events in our country’s history that have significantly contributed to what we are today as a vibrant multi-cultural and multi-religious society, enriched by diversity. SODELPA will ensure that the special place and contribution of our different constituent communities are duly acknowledged and recognized in our supreme law. We will recognize the settlement of our islands by the indigenous Fijian and Rotuman communities and their subsequent acceptance and adoption of Christianity as the spiritual foundation of their way of life. Along with this are their customs and traditions passed on through successive generations from time immemorial. The session in 1874 and in 1879 by the Fijian Chiefs and the Rotuman communities of their islands to Her Majesty Queen Victoria of Great Britain were voluntary acts of unreserved trust in her benevolent protection of the people and their land and other natural resources. Also honored in our history is the arrival of other communities to settle and to make Fiji their home. They brought with them their religions, their customs and traditions. Through their labour and sacrifice and their enterprise and entrepreneurship they have contributed outstandingly to Fiji’s status as the most economically advanced country in the Pacific islands region.

Against this historical background SODELPA commits itself to building a prosperous and unified nation, based on democratic values, the rule of law, fundamental human rights and social justice to ensure equal opportunities for all. Specifically, the following foundational principles will be SODELPA’s constant guide: ·The freedom, equality and dignity of all individuals as fellow citizens, ·The freedom, equality and dignity of all religions and religious denominations; ·The equality and dignity of all communities, their freedom to promote their languages and customary practices, and the protection through appropriate legislation of their cultural heritage and intellectual property; ·The right and freedom of the mass media to keep those who exercise the government, legislative and judicial power of the state fully accountable to the ordinary people; ·Recognition and support for the important roles played by non-governmental organizations and special interest groups in raising and promoting community concerns and causes; ·The right and freedom of employers, their workers and unions to organize themselves in pursuance of their collective interests; ·

The recognition of women as pivotal to building an equitable and prosperous nation. They are already at the core of our Party’s decision-making process in the National Executive Council and the Management Board. SODELPA will ensure their increasing participation in Parliament. ·

The recognition of our young people as our country’s most important resource and giving them the best in education and other opportunities, enabling them as individuals to realize their full potential through their own ability, hard work and discipline. SODELPA has a Youth Council that will help chart the way ahead for our young people and the country. As our future leaders we will be encouraging them to join us as volunteers and involve themselves actively in the work of the Party.

Our central goals in promoting sustained growth in all parts of the economy are to accelerate employment creation, continually improve the health and general well-being of our population, reduce income inequalities, eradicate homelessness and poverty, and ensure that government services and the benefits of development are spread evenly in all areas of Fiji.

Let me now tell you of our priority action plan for our first one hundred days in office if you, our members and supporters, give us the majority in the elections. To demonstrate our commitment to serving everyone and all communities in Fiji, SODELPA will resume the multi-party Cabinet which our predecessor, the SDL party, had started with the Fiji Labour Party in 2006 following the general elections in May that year. SODELPA will issue invitations to like-minded parties to join in a voluntary coalition government for national healing, reconciliation and unity. We shall go into the elections as individual parties but SODELPA owes it to the people, as the party that aims to win the majority of seats in the elections, to bring our nation together. Cabinet can operate most effectively if it enjoys the confidence of all communities in our multi-cultural society. So this afternoon I again send messages of goodwill from SODELPA to the leaders of the Fiji Labour Party and the National Federation Party and our friends from the People’s Democratic Party. I am addressing you as prospective post-election coalition partners.

Our first legislative action will be to revoke all current restrictive decrees on fundamental freedoms and political and civic rights. We shall also instantly remove all the restrictions which Commodore Bainimarama and the Military had imposed on the Methodist Church. We will ensure a judiciary that is truly independent and which is able to function without unwarranted limitations on its jurisdiction. Only then can ordinary citizens be assured of effective justice for all in the protection of their fundamental rights and freedoms. As I have already stated we shall be seeking advice from the Supreme Court on the status in law of the 1997 Constitution. We shall also undertake a comprehensive review of the legality of the Fiji National Provident Fund’s unilateral reductions of pension entitlements and ensure that pension contractual agreements are honored. We will engender more transparency and accountability for members on how their funds are used. Recognizing the importance of giving as many of our students fair and equal opportunity for higher level tertiary education, the SODELPA-led multi-party government twill reinstate the FAB scholarship scheme and the multi-ethnic scholarship programme for eligible students from low income families. With the support of multi-party Cabinet partners, we shall reinstate the Bose Levu Vakaturaga as the apex consultative body of the indigenous Fijian and Rotuman communities. We shall also enact legislation to protect the cultural heritage and intellectual property of our indigenous communities given the collective communal nature of the ownership of these rights.

Not content with overthrowing the elected government and parliament under the 1997 Constitution, Commodore Bainimarama took over the chairmanship of the ILTB and created a land bank in the Department of Lands. In its operation it has effectively taken powers away from the ITLB, undermining the Board’s exercise of its statutory responsibility to protect the best interests of indigenous land owner sand natural resource owners. The SODELPA-led government will abolish the Land Use Decree which effectively alienates native lands from the ILTB. We will revoke the Mahogany Decree which has effectively marginalized the mahogany landowners. Authority and decisions on mahogany plantations are with a Mahogany Council controlled by Bainimarama and Khaiyum. We will ensure that the chair of the i-Taukei Land Trust Board is chosen by the landowners in a consultative process with our government.

We will strengthen the role of the Board and review the present system of distribution of lease money which has disempowered our Turagani Mataqali, Turagani Yavusa and Turagai Taukei and is effectively destroying the communal foundation of indigenous Fijian society. As another top priority, SODELPA and the multi-party government we envisage will hold immediate consultations both within Cabinet and with the ITLB and the Bose Levu Vakaturaga, on a comprehensive long term solution to agricultural leases under ALTA. This is critically important to the landowners and the tenant farmers, and the sugar industry as a whole. SODELPA is committed to an immediate and just resolution of this long-standing issue for the mutual benefit of all.

A SODELPA-led multi-party government will seek traditional reconciliation meetings with the Military under its new leadership. The Military has a tradition of service, especially in community development, support for disaster relief and rehabilitation programmes, and taking part in international peacekeeping. However, as a state agency, it must remain neutral in political matters. I must emphasize this because of its involvement in politics. So again, speaking on your behalf, I welcome the pledge from Brigadier-General Tikoitoga that the military will become non-political. Its first duty is to remain loyal to the President and to the elected government of the day in upholding and defending Fiji’s democratically endorsed constitution. A reconciliation process will be started for those directly involved and implicated in the unlawful removal of the elected government and state officials in the 2006 coup and in subsequent illegal activities and unwarranted acts of terrorism.This process will be available to those prepared, as a genuine act of contrition, to admit wrong-doing and guilt to their innocent victims. To all criminal acts of the recalcitrant and for those who were involved in acts of gross violation of human rights, the law and justice will take its normal course. No one is above the law.

Let me briefly explain the kind of leadership you and our nation can expect from me as the party leader of SODELPA. I shall bring to this role whatever wisdom and experience I have gained in my own traditional position and in my earlier service in Cabinet. As leader, it is not my role to dictate or to direct. On the contrary, my role is to listen, to be patient, to encourage free discussions. I must ensure that no one is excluded and everyone is heard so that a decision is reached. This procedure of consultation and consensus is how decisions are normally made in Cabinet and in traditional gatherings like the Bose Levu Vakaturaga. Compare this to the dictatorial decision-making we are seeing in the current unelected government. Our government and multi-party cabinet will also uphold our collective responsibility and accountability to parliament and to the people. We will never do what Commodore Bainimarama and his unelected government are currently unashamedly doing.

Nepotism and cronyism in top public service appointments are unprecedented. Only a few people know the salaries and other perks paid to individual ministers. They are not talking. There is no independently audited account of government revenue and expenditure and no independently verified account of government borrowings and contingency undertakings like loan guarantees. Again only a handful of people in the regime’s inner circle have the details of the true state of government’s solvency.

My message to you, our party members and supporters and, indeed, to all registered voters throughout Fiji, is clear. If you wish to rid Fiji of dictatorial rule which has been based on imposition, threats, intimidation and fear, make your vote count by voting for SODELPA and its prospective partners in government.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is much more to come from SODELPA. All will be revealed at the right time. My final comments are reserved for the SODELPA Youth Council Delegates. They are led by a fearless activist, Pita Waqavonovono, who is well known nationally. Pita and your team: We are proud of you; carry our banner high for the young people of this country; tell them the truth, bring them into the fold and encourage them to take a full role in civic affairs and politics. You are SODELPA’s Young Patriots, dedicated to advancing a new form of national spirit founded on a patriotic love of country and the ideals and values of the Fiji we will build together.

I share a bond with Pita. Both of us have been taken to the barracks. At some point he may wish to tell you about his experience. In mid 2009, 16 policemen took me from my home in the dead of night. I was first placed in a cell at the Central Police Station and later moved to another cell. This one was at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks. My transgression was to offer, on behalf of Rewa, to host that year’s Methodist Conference. This was supposedly against the law. But I refused to withdraw the invitation to the Church.That was why I ended up in a cell. A youngish soldier came to interrogate me. I could tell he was not very experienced. I asked him what he was doing, and what kind of legacy he wanted to leave to Fiji and his children? He did not answer, but hung his head. I then said to him, “Young man, I am going to pray for you.” His answer was, “Don’t pray for me. Pray for Fiji.” Ladies and gentlemen, Pita and your team, we should all continue to pray for our country. We should pray for that confused soldier, that he may be freed from his shame and receive enlightenment. We should pray that the young of today transform the legacy we give to these islands into something wonderful. God be with us! On to victory! Thank you for listening."

Source: Fiji Today's Open Forum Blog